Written by Jess Ali
In the wake of COVID-19, staffing cuts are signalling an uncertain future for the landscape of Deakin University.
The university has reportedly slashed 432 positions—including redundancies and non-renewals—across academic and professional staff so far according to numbers from the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU), already moving beyond the 400 that were forecasted to be cut. This figure does not include cuts made to casual and fixed-term contracts, many of which have also not been renewed.
Figure 1: The numbers from the NTEU published 3rd June showing the areas from which jobs have been cut. They note that some areas did not separate ‘attrition’ from ‘redundant’. They stressed to members that this does not include numbers for casual and fixed-term staff that Deakin is cutting.
In a statement to staff last week, Vice-Chancellor Professor Iain Martin announced that the university would not sign on to the NTEU’s Australian Universities Job Protection Framework, citing Deakin’s Enterprise Agreement amongst other things. He asserted that the university would instead take a ‘phased approach to staff reductions’.
‘While we will do everything possible to minimise staff impacts, we must look at our employment costs as well as continuing to minimise other expenditure to adjust to where we need to be,’ Professor Martin stated.
There has been significant backlash in the Deakin community, with rank and file staff petitioning the Vice-Chancellor with 5 demands:
1. Detailed financial transparency around any decision to shed staff.
2. Deakin Executive take meaningful pay cuts before any Deakin staff are made redundant.
3. Voluntary redundancies and leaves without pay are offered to staff before any decision of forced redundancies is taken.
4. Clear and detailed information about all aspects of the intended Major Workplace Change, including the nature, scope, and intended aims of Phase 2.
5. Transparent counting, public acknowledgment, and meaningful support of all casualised employees who have lost jobs.
Students and alumni have also not been silent on the issue. Some have formed a group, Deakin Students in Solidarity, whose aim is to lobby support for staff facing job cuts. Others are taking to social media with the hashtag #deakinfightsback to express their solidarity with the staff who are losing jobs. One student tweeted:
‘I’ve been lucky enough to be taught by dozens of talented staff at @Deakin across multiple faculties. The lack of executive accountability, the job losses, spills & fills—all shrouded in secrecy—are absurd. The uni and students are worse off in every way as a result #deakinfightsback.’
Laura Clark, a recent graduate of Deakin, has felt the effects of the staffing cuts:
‘After three years of study with Deakin and working in peer support for them, I managed to secure a casual research and writing position that I believed would launch my exciting career with the university for many years to come.
‘After just a few months in the role, our team went through weeks of uncertainty about our job security, believing our Deakin would look after us.
‘Yet, we were told our work wasn’t essential, that we were now redundant and had no further employment, because we were just casuals. […] I face unemployment and near-impossible entry-level job-seeking yet again, in an even rockier economy. We were in need too, but evidently, we were disposable. Our work and dedication weren’t reciprocated.’
Such a reduction in staffing could have an effect on class sizes, timeframes for marking turnaround, and course structures. At this time, it is unclear whether cuts will be made to student services or student support programs.
National Tertiary Education Union, ‘All of the major workplace change proposals’, NTEU Deakin University Branch, Facebook, June 3 2020, retrieved June 3 2020, <https://www.facebook.com/nteudeakinbranch/photos/a.1635709666567181/1660295674108580/?type=3&theater